If achieving a “work-life balance” were easy, there wouldn’t be so many articles and advice books on the subject. But what does it mean to achieve a “balanced life?”
When you are able to maintain balance, you don’t feel as if your life is overwhelmed by any one task. You’re not spending so much time working that you don’t know what your non-work self is like, and you’re not constantly stressed by an unmanageable to-do list. You feel that you are actually living, rather than just rushing through the days.
Here are some suggestions on how to bring your life more into balance.
Prioritize sleep, exercise, and eating
When many responsibilities all call for our attention, it becomes easy for us to allow some of our most basic and healthful needs to be downplayed. Proper sleep and exercise help ensure our bodies are operating at full capacity, and they leave us feeling more relaxed as we live out each day. Pay attention to your body’s needs and rhythms, and honor them as best you can.
Prioritizing eating and the food you choose does not necessarily mean that you have to spend more money on food, or even force yourself to eat more healthily. It does mean being mindful of what and when you are eating. If you know you spend four out of five work lunches wolfing down something at your desk, allow yourself the freedom of a planned lunch out. And if you’re going to eat ten Oreos in a row one afternoon, make sure you enjoy them.
Identify and rethink your coping behaviors
If you’re very stressed, chances are you’re using something - maybe shopping, alcohol, or those Oreos - to help you feel better. While coping mechanisms are understandable human traits, you may want to think about alternative healthy activities that would allow you to relax without potentially draining your budget or leaving you feeling poorly.
Maintaining balance in your life means being aware of the things that stress you and attempting to change them or cope with them before you feel compelled to resort to behavior that will be counterproductive to your well-being. Instead of spending money, for instance, focus on another activity you enjoy. Instead of drinking or eating more than you will enjoy in order to relieve your stress, take the time to figure out why you would want to do those things in the first place.
Schedule time for quiet
Whether it’s prayer, meditation, yoga, writing in a journal, or just sitting and paying attention to your breath, having a few protected minutes of quiet in your day can be healing and revitalizing. Invest this time in a restful activity — watching TV, checking Facebook, or playing video games may not work as well for helping you feel more balanced.
Figure out what you can let go of
If you are simply trying to cram too much into 24 hours, you may need to cut some activities out of your packed schedule. It may not be obvious at first what you need to drop. Some experts recommend tracking your time; others, tracking your moods. Has one of your friends turned into an emotional vampire? Is that side project that once seemed so exciting now exhausting? Is your Saturday night out leaving you feeling bleak on Sunday? An honest appraisal of the events and relationships in your life may help you prioritize and potentially change some of them for the better.
Assess the “work” part of the work-life balance
Keep in mind that taking steps like these to improve your work-life balance may not go far enough to mitigate the negative effects of a job that is simply not suited to your personality, no matter how much that job pays. If you can’t leave a job that you find awful immediately, then make yourself a promise that at a definite date in the future - three months, six months, a year from now - you will re-evaluate your options. Write down your escape plan, as if you were formalizing a contract with yourself. If you find you have trouble clearly evaluating all the pieces of your life, you might want to consult a therapist, spiritual leader, or trusted friend to help you talk it all out.
Whether you “live to work” or “work to live,” you can always strive to streamline your life and make all its pieces work together more smoothly. Balance is an important goal for being happy with the things you have to do, as well as the things you want to do - and may help you deal with the difference between the two.